Vicki asks “How Many People Can Fit in a Boat?”

Chris Riley by Chris Riley Updated on August 8, 2019. In

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That’s a very good question, Vicki, because overloading a small boat is a very dangerous thing to do. Luckily, there are some federal regulations helping to protect you.

Boat builders must comply with Federal law by putting a Capacity Plate in sight of the helm (steering area) on motorized boats less than 20 feet in length. This plate displays three important items: the maximum weight of persons on board in pounds, the maximum carrying weight of the vessel in pounds and the maximum horsepower recommended for the boat.

Capacity Plate

If you own a boat that was built prior to the Federal law mandating capacity plates, or have a homemade boat, the following formulas can be used to determine safe loading capacity.

Formulas for Safe Loading

Horsepower Capacity
for small, flat-bottom boats:
Multiply boat length (ft) times transom width (ft)
Person Capacity:
Average weight per person is 150 lbs.

If answer is:
35 or less


Maximum HP is:

(Boat length
Boat width )

Number of

Note: for flat bottom, hard chine boats, with an answer of 52 or less, reduce one increment (e.g. 5 to 3) Boat length and width are measured in feet. Round fractions down to next lower number.

Remember that you need to keep everything in the boat balanced – this includes people, pets, coolers, etc.. Even if your boat has the capacilty to carry a few people and a few coolers filled with soda, you don’t want everyone sitting together on one side. You should also secure your gear, so it doesn’t all slide to one side if a boat passing you creates a wake or you become unbalanced for some reason.

Also, in a small boat, it is best to remain low and toward the center.


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